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After Atlanta, Confronting Anti-Asian Racism Is Long Overdue By Russell Sherrard-Smith

It was only a matter of time.

Eight people in Atlanta have been shot dead, and one is in critical condition. Six of them were Asian women working at massage parlours. You can dress this up however you like, you can claim that the shooter (and, conveniently, the officer interrogating him) were having a “bad day”, but there is no hiding the fact that this was a targeted attack on Asian women working in survival jobs. Racism, misogyny, and classism - a three-layered cake of marginalisation. It speaks to the shooter’s cowardice that he chose to target some of the most socially vulnerable in our community.

It’s not easy to put into words the flood of emotions that accompanies news like this. Grief was the first thing that came to mind. Try, if you can, to remove the implications of this and comprehend that eight people’s lives were taken from them cruelly and unexpectedly. We don’t know a great deal about all of the victims yet but media outlets seem better equipped to humanize the shooter. It’s important that we think about and centre the victims’ lives in any discussion of hate crimes like these and the structural causes that have contributed to them. I wish I had the space here to talk about each person, but all I can do instead is ask you to read about them - Xiaojie ‘Emily’ Tan, Yong Yue, Hyun Jung Grant, Paul Andre Michels, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Soon Park, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, and Suncha Kim. They were people too.

The grief gave way, after some time, to fear. “Who’s next?” we ask. “Will it be someone I know? Will it be me?” Hate crimes against the Asian diaspora have spiked in the last year, (although they have certainly existed for far longer than that), and it will almost definitely happen again. And don’t believe this is limited to the United States either- hate crimes towards East and South Asians have risen by a staggering 300% in the UK,.They disproportionately target women, the working class, and the elderly. How brave.

I should be feeling sad, but mostly I’m just really fucking angry. Angry at the murderer who did this. Angry that, of course, he was apprehended with barely a scratch. Angry that he targeted the most vulnerable, angry that until now it feels like no one has even listened to us, angry at the whole rotten structure that has contributed to this and is delaying justice.

Mostly I’m angry at everyone I’ve met - including ostensibly progressive people - who insist that anti-Asian racism has been exaggerated, or somehow doesn’t exist. Thanks guys! You almost successfully gaslit me into thinking that discrimination against me and the communities I’m part of weren’t real. I just wish it didn’t take an act of domestic terrorism to be proven right.

If you are surprised by this attack, then you haven’t been paying attention. Asian diaspora activists have been trying to fight the complicated relationship that we have with white supremacy for a long, long time - the hyper-sexualisation and fetishization of Asian women in the western popular imagination that degrades and dehumanizes. The concerted re-organizing of western society to oppose the perceived threat of a rising China, creating a scapegoat on which to project all our domestic problems. Those little jokes about the “China virus” or “Kung flu”. The representation of Asians as unemotional and robotic in mass media. The legal and social barriers imposed on us, that very clearly remind us that we do not belong, be they immigration quotas or internment camps. All of this can only, inevitably, lead to violence. What holds you back when you strip away our humanity for a hundred years?

And yet, all of this can be merely handwaved away with the invoking of the “model minority” myth. Because you know, we’re over-represented in certain well-paid professions (when you view the Asian diaspora as a homogenous blob instead of the hundreds of communities it comprises). We’ve been the privileged ones the whole time! So the racism isn’t real. Or when it does happen, we kind of have ourselves to blame, really, for daring to be so privileged. We’re “white-adjacent,” whatever that means. White enough for our struggles to be swept under the rug, but not white enough to avoid all the racism. The language used by people I know- friends of mine- has been alienating and confusing, drowning out our voices and muting our very real struggles. No wonder this came as a surprise to so many.

There’s so much left to say. The lack of clear discourse about the experiences of the Asian diaspora means that there are so many stones left unturned, and just bringing awareness to them is a huge task. The work doesn’t end here - it’s not enough to just know that we’re having a pretty bad time. Confront your own prejudices, confront those of the people you know, and do some further reading on our experiences.

And listen to us when we speak. We’re tired of falling on deaf ears.